Finney - Jack Rabbit
Ross Lee Finney's piece, Jack Rabbit is set as an exciting, alternative choice for the Grade 6 ABRSM piano exam, 2011 - 2012.
Ross Lee Finney Junior (1906–1997) was an American composer who taught at the University of Michigan, having studied with Nadia Boulanger, Edward Burlingame Hill, Alban Berg and Roger Sessions.
Finney composed string quartets and symphonies as well as piano music and songs.
You may listen to Symphony No 2 here:
Pupil Match & Suitability
For those with nimble fingers and perhaps an interest in composition such students may find this a good choice.
It is unlikely to be heard much, due to a lack of usual familiarity with this sort of style. However, it is a well written and effective piece which, in the right hands is not difficult to play well.
Students with small hands can negotiate this easily.
Style & Tempo
The style of this piece is one of atonality. The composer states the 6 note cell from which this composition is predominantly built above the first stave.
Notice how the composer uses the transposition of that same six note cell throughout the piece. This is what holds the piece together structurally.
Follow the tempo set by the composer – crotchet = 112.
Phrasing & Articulation
The composer states clearly the articulation required, including accentuation, dynamics and use of the pedal.
Beware of over shortening the staccato notes. A clear even touch is sufficient. Staccatissimo is rarely useful, especially where, at speed, it becomes more gap/silence than note itself !
If you wish to capture the quirky nature of the rabbit, then you should consider the line and phrase each section so that is has a simple but obvious sense of musical direction and momentum. Be careful not to just think about the staccato notes only.
Note the four pauses, marked first in bar 3, 14 and 28 and lastly as a long pause in the final bar. Be strict in counting the tied minim (bars10 and 11) and also be vigilant about the lengths of rests.
Tone & Texture
Consider the range of dynamics from pp to ff and the different sounds which need to be created, from the sharper accentuation in bar 1 RH (e.g.) to the mixed articulation detail in bars 15 – 19. Notice how bars 15 and 16 vary subtly in their articulation from bars 17 and 18.
Textures are mainly single line, although it is important to hold RH minims for full lengths (bars 6 & 7) so that this important textural detail comes across.
Notice how the express use of the sustaining pedal in bars 19 and 20 produces a blurred effect. This is not specified in bars 29 and 30. Therefore we should conclude that the composer wishes for a legato effect but not sustaining pedal in bars 29 and 30.
The technical demands relate mainly to agility and to the ability to play neat staccato at reasonable speed.
The main challenge this piece offers is in interpreting the mood, using a wide tonal range and varied articulation.
Much of the finger patterning is fairly obvious.
Wherever there is opportunity to follow a four note fingering pattern, then do so by beginning each pattern as described below.
Pedal should be used throughout bars 19 and 20 as indicated by the composer. Elsewhere pedal can and should be used where it adds resonance to chords, such as bars 2 and 3 etc.
It could also help to secure a good legato between the last quaver of bar 29 into the first quaver of bar 30 where the suggested fingering would benefit from this. Otherwise no pedal should be used in this piece.
You will need to ensure that your pupil is motivated to learn this piece and an ideal way to do so is to get them interested in the compositional aspects of this. Work together to discover the way in which the piece is composed.
Set your student the task, then, of finding out more about the logic of its compositional technique. You could even suggest your pupil write a piece that uses a similar technique, though perhaps on a simpler and smaller scale.
By this level, the kind of student who will be interested in learning this piece will be likely to be going on to further musical study, and you can help to broaden their scope of interest in this way.
Practise tapping out the rhythms first - this piece depends on rhythmic buoyancy and a strong sense of pulse for its character, as much as on note accuracy and expressive detail.
Be meticulous in working out the patterns of notes, not only as they appear, visually, in the notation, but as they are represented on the keyboard. This enables you to more thoroughly and quickly grasp the patterns.
Also think in terms of chord names and shapes. For example, bar 29:
Think of the LH pattern as Db major 1st inversion, and the RH pattern as A minor first three notes. This will help to make learning easier and more efficient.
Timing needs to be meticulous here - the temptation will be to shorten the longer value notes, such as in Bars 3, 10 - 11 and in 14, where the pause should be held too.
Dotted rhythms must be precise, played with a bounce!
The sense of pulse must be maintained through the changing metres of 2 time and 3 time in the first half of the piece.
Rhythmic problems need not arise if initial learning is closely supervised by the teacher and practice is conscientious.
Listening to a recording will be an advantage, particularly at the start of the learning process.
Above all, a crisp and rhythmic result is intended. Not only will an excellent performance display these characteristics well, but it will have poise and subtlety in its phrasing and show excellent attention to all the detail of dynamics. It will have a keen sense of character to it.
A good performance will generate colour and alert rhythmic vitality. It may not always be as detailed as one might wish for, but it will have plenty of vivid dynamics and a sense of the scampering mood about it.
A sound performance will have a feeling for the overall shape and essentially be up to tempo. Whilst it should have a feeling of rhythmic momentum about it and be accurate, it may not always have the evenness of touch to be quite as convincing as it might otherwise be.